This The Last Kingdom review contains spoilers.
The Last Kingdom season 4 episode 4
Always good in a pinch is Uhtred, son of Uhtred/father of other Uhtred. However scant his resources – be they freshly stripped tree branches or the headless corpse of a Saxon child – he makes the most of what’s available.
Uhtred’s A-Team ingenuity in episode four bought him valuable time in the fight against Cnut’s superior forces. The bit of hastily assembled panto he performed to make Cnut think he’d murdered his heir not only saved Aethelflaed from having to sacrifice herself to the Danes, but also gave the Saxon coalition the advantage in battle.
Cnut was lured into an away game when he’d planned a home match. Then he and his men were lured into a Looney Tunes-style pit. The sight of all those ferocious Danes squirming in a puppy pile at the bottom of Uhtred’s trench would have been comical were it not all so intensely exciting.
Intense excitement was very much the mood of episode four, the second half of which as so filled with action you could almost see the accompanying comic book sound effect bubbles. Whomp! Blam! Pow! Aaghh! Bang! Ouch! Clang!
It was an exhilarating, blood-splattered fight, judiciously conducted to provide bursts of chaos interspersed with emotional character peril. Young Uhtred almost died but was saved. Aethelflaed almost died but was saved. Aethelred almost died but was saved (boo!) but was left with a nasty looking head wound (hooray!). Steapa and Cnut didn’t make it (respectively, boo and hooray). For an over-long moment, it even looked likely that we might lose Brida, but so soon after taking Beocca, surely the gods wouldn’t be that cruel?
Arriving so quickly in the footsteps of the action-packed escape from Bebbanburg, it feels as though The Last Kingdom season four is spoiling us.
The battle played all the classic hits and played them well. There was Uhtred’s “he tends to come up with something at the last minute” gulley plan, the late arrival of reinforcements from Mercia, and King Edward’s well-aimed arrow signalling his arrival into the fray. Despite the battle ground initially looking less populated than midday at a cricket ground car boot sale, in they came. The Mercian fyrds, the Welsh, Aethelred’s army, the men of Wessex… once again the Saxons proved that union is stronger than isolation.
On the battlefield at least. Off it, the royal family is as fractured as ever. Edward was humiliated by his mother and sister’s unilateral action, which forced his hand and left his soldiers without the traditional spoils of war. And by the looks of the Paddington Bear Hard Stare the king gave to Father Pyrlig, the warrior priest’s days at court are likely numbered after his unsanctioned trip to Way-las (spot Dave Coaches aka Stefan Rhoddri as King Hywel? Tidy).
Even before the battle, episode four was themed around discord. Argument followed argument. Lovers, family members, servants and kings all locked horns. Uhtred and Aethelflaed clashed over her sense of duty, Brida and Cnut fought over his grief-fuelled rage marching them into a trap, Edward screamed at Aelswith and his sister, Eadith shouted at Eardwulf, and Aethelred went from post-coital glow to promising Eardwulf’s public castration.
Only the scheming Aethelhelm and Queen Blondie were in accordance. To secure their bloodline’s place on the throne, she needs to shag her husband more (bit weird coming from her dad) while he’s going up against Aelswith and the rightful heir to the throne of Wessex. “Trust me, I have not come this far to be thwarted by a bitter widow,” he told his daughter. Trust me mate, Wikipedia says otherwise.
Legacy is on everyone’s minds in season four. That’s bound to be so in a story of kings and warriors, but it’s especially so here. Uhtred’s much-discussed destiny – whether or not it lies in Bebbanburg – only has meaning because of his son. Believing his legacy lost drove Cnut to madness and death. Aelswith took a very great risk to protect her daughter.
There’s a definite sense this season of a baton being passed from one generation to the next. When it’s still delivering episodes as thrilling as this, please don’t say that The Last Kingdom is readying itself to say a final goodbye?